Archive for the ‘Business advice’ Category
Monday, March 11th, 2013
As the web has evolved, WordPress has become a dominant platform for the building of websites and blogs.
According to online learning company,lynda.com, it is easy to use and includes many perks like making websites easy to find and allows for a large variety of templates to be used, many of which are free.
With recent changes and updates it’s good to know exactly how to successfully manage the publishing platform.
“Why do people choose WordPress themes for their websites?” Asks Sam Philips, SEO and business development manager at QArea, in a recent article inSocial Media Today. “Because they don’t have to spend lots of money to get one of them and WP themes can make any type of website look professional.”
Your website is home base
Susan Gilbert, marketing expert and author a SusanGilbert.com in Issaquah, Washington, believes that, “a website is an extremely important piece of online real estate.”
In fact, several recent marketing studies have shown that blogs, not social media, drive the most business for companies and brands.
Gilbert adds that having a fully developed blog or branded site will help a person or company get noticed both online and offline. “It’s what goes on business cards, gets linked in the social media profiles and, in general, is the hub of all the online activity,” Gilbert states. “It’s the home base.”
Her new videos will help anyone who is using WordPress, while Susan’s emphasis is on websites for authors and entrepreneurs. Her short video series provides step by step instructions that range from two to five minutes in length making the small tweaks available in WordPress easy to learn.
Get a security plugin
As longtime WordPress users here at the TechJournal, we strongly recommend installing a security plugin and firewall such as Wordfence (there are other, stronger security programs available too).
Cyber attacks are rampant and some bot networks scrape your content just to sell your competitors information about you. You may even want to block some countries unlikely to do business with you but very likely to add to the number of cyber attacks you have to fend off.
Friday, March 1st, 2013
By Allan Maurer
Brett Reizen launched his startup Entertainment Benefits Group (EBG) on September 12, 2001, a day after 9-11, so he learned the value of running a lean operation quickly in the economic turmoil that followed.
Today, EBG, which has 200 employees and 7,000 corporate clients, reaches 34 million people and is still growing. It provides travel and entertainment worldwide, reaching corporations and consumers through their corporate benefits program, TicketsAtWork.com, and several consumer sites: BestOfVegas.com, BestOfOrlando.com, BestOfNewYork.com.
Brett, 35, tells the TechJournal that he learned very quickly that he needed to stay on top of bills and the financial side of the business, but if he had one thing to do over, he would pay attention to that even earlier.
It’s challenging for a startup to hire professional help with accounting and financial planning, he notes, but says if you can’t do it yourself, you need to bring someone in from outside.
He also warns against buying an office condo or other unnecessary property. “Liquid cash is more important than anything,” he says. “Rent. It gives you a lot more flexibility if you grow more quickly than you expected to or if you have to downsize.”
He also says entrepreneurs need to “Stay focused. I still have a lot of ideas every day. Focus on areas you can expand with your resources and your business model. Don’t try to do everything at once.”
Here are his nine top cost-saving tips for startups:
1. Have good personal credit - Get credit cards, pay them off in full and keep asking for a higher credit line. I did this for the first 24 months and also earned membership rewards points. I soon paid for all travel expenses with the credit card rewards points.
2. Lower your living expenses – I was young and saved enough money to go about two years without making any money. I lived with my parents for six months to start the company and then had a roommate for three years. When working 12-15 hour days consistently with the ultimate goal of moving up, your confidence is high in knowing that with hard work, you will get there. Where you live and sleep doesn’t seem to matter much.
3. Find a good landlord - For a new company this is always the challenging part. Try to find a landlord willing to be flexible and supportive. You shouldn’t get too much space, but the trick is always the length of the lease and what to do if you grow fast and need more space. Always be a close friend with your landlord.
4. Rent and do not own. (unless you already do). Renting gives you more flexibility. Stay away from office condos.
5. Spend more on the company and less on you. Remember that when spending more on the company means less money for you short-term, but the long-term and bigger picture will make it all the more worthwhile later.
6. Review all bills. It can be surprising how many errors vendors make on all sorts of bills. Make sure you review your phone plans, electric, server expenses, photocopy details and almost every bill you get. The little numbers add up and a monthly reconciliation can save you thousands. We didn’t pay attention to this early on and when we woke up and started, we were pleasantly surprised.
7. Don’t underestimate the importance of good bookkeeping. The only way you truly know your bottom line is quality reporting. It is mind boggling in how many entrepreneurs focus on the gross sales and neglect all expenses and proper accounting. I also learned the hard way and learned through mistakes early on. Make sure to not cut any corners, pay the extra money to hire a professional or a strong person to evaluate your accounting and reconcile your finances every month.
8. Don’t by new equipment. No need to buy brand new furniture. Large companies move all of the time and in many cases they leave behind their furniture, often times great furniture, which looks brand new. Spending some extra time asking friends, family, associates and business colleagues can save you thousands, and in many cases if you find the right used furniture –it can look brand new. I never bought new furniture during the first 6 years we were in business.
9. Start when you’re young. You are used to spending less and have not yet developed expensive tastes. You need a healthy balance of having enough experience or mentors in your life to help with answers that you think you should know but don’t, but age is an important factor in starting a business. It’s much easier before marriage and kids come into the picture because if things don’t work out, you don’t have the stress and responsibility that you will have when you’re 35-45.
Monday, February 18th, 2013
Presidents’ Day, which falls between the birthdays of two of our nation’s most revered leaders—George Washington and Abraham Lincoln—is coming up on Monday, February 18. And as every school-aged kid knows, both men are remembered for their honesty.
(Okay, “little George and the cherry tree” might be more legend than fact, but it doesindicate the extent to which our culture views truthfulness as a virtue.) To Joseph Callaway, the “lip service” we pay to honesty, even as we fudge the truth in our day-to-day lives, raises a question:Would Washington and Lincoln make it in today’s business world?
“I believe the answer is yes,” says Callaway, who, along with his wife, JoAnn, is the author of the new book Clients First: The Two Word Miracle (Wiley, October 2012, ISBN: 978-1-1184127-7-0, $21.95).
“If they showed up in 2013 and truly lived up to their reputations, they would find themselves in huge demand. People really, really crave honesty and transparency, and it’s mostly because they’re such rare qualities these days.”
Do a little soul-searching, suggests Callaway. You might be shocked at the number of white lies, exaggerations, misdirections, and lies of omission you’re guilty of. For example: I’m not going to meet my deadline so I’ll tell him I’m sick to buy myself a couple more days. Or, This is probably not the best vendor for this particular client, but since she (the vendor) sends us a lot of business, I’m going to recommend her anyway.
Even small dishonesties can hurt your business
The occasional lie of omission, or even commission, may not reflect any ill intent toward your clients. But in the long run, even small dishonesties will muddy your relationship and ultimately keep your business from being all it can be.
“We can usually rationalize our small or even large dishonesties,” says Callaway. “But when we examine them, we can see that our lies, little or big, are told to benefit ourselves—to make more money, to cover up mistakes, or to avoid an uncomfortable conversation.
“Making the decision to always put your clients first instead—which means telling them the truth and letting the chips fall—will transform your business,” he adds. “It may not happen overnight, but it will over time as you gain a reputation for transparency and trustworthiness.
And it will change your life. Just ask Abraham Lincoln, who ‘lost’ a lot of money during his lawyer career because he didn’t like to charge exorbitant amounts, and encouraged clients to settle out of court when it was in their best interests—even though he didn’t get paid!”
Callaway and his wife built their thriving business—Those Callaways—after a late-in-life entry into the world of real estate. Since then, they have lived through a bubble and survived a horrible economic downturn—and managed to prosper through both, while many of their fellow realtors never recovered.
Their magic bullet
They credit their “Clients First” philosophy as their magic bullet—and never, ever telling a lie is part of that.
Early on in their careers as realtors, the Callaways faced a not-uncommon dilemma: Their sellers, the Smiths, needed to sell their home soon so they could move. Their buyers, the Browns, had fallen in love with the Smiths’ house.
Perfect, right? Not really. It turned out the Browns’ offer was lower than what the Smiths were asking, but it still stretched their budget. Should the Callaways tell each family what they wanted to hear (and guarantee themselves a commission)…or should they do the right thing?
“JoAnn and I decided to tell each party the truth: This deal really wasn’t in either of their best interests, even though it was in ours,” he continues. “Like a fairy tale, we soon found the Smiths a buyer willing to pay their asking price, and we found the Browns a more affordable home they loved even more.
The way we did business was forever changed. Whatever happened, we knew we had to always put the client first—even though the truth sometimes hurts, and a fairy-tale ending isn’t always guaranteed.”
Whether in the days of Washington and Lincoln or right now, telling the truth is not rocket science. Honesty really is the best policy in business and in life. Callaway gives seven solid reasons why:
It’s why you exist. If you’re in business, you provide either a good or a service that’s aimed at making the consumer’s life easier, better, fuller, etc. In other words, your raison d’être comes down to helping other people. When you think about your job description in those terms, you’ll have to admit that while it may not always be comfortable, telling the truth is what’s in the client’s best interest.
“You can’t truly help someone if you aren’t being honest!” Callaway assures. “Sure, you can usually rationalize a blurred line or a white lie. But on whose behalf are you fudging the truth? Even if it’s for the client, broken rules and skipped steps—if and when they come to light—won’t be doing him any favors. And if you’re trying to skirt the truth to make your own life easier, beware: You’re on a very slippery slope.”
The authors wrote Clients First.
The truth will set you free. Remember when you were a kid and your mother told you that if you told her the truth about how the lamp really got broken, you’d feel better? She was right! Making a commitment to always tell the truth will take a weight off your shoulders that you might not have known was even there! Not only do lies have their own psychic weight, they complicate your life. Truth-telling simplifies it.
“JoAnn and I found that the positive effects of telling the Smiths and Browns the truth were almost immediate,” Callaway recalls. “The first thing we noticed was a new feeling of strength and courage. By no longer having to juggle the facts, we were relieved of so much strain! When you have only the truth, you wave goodbye to moral dilemmas and sleepless nights. You don’t have to worry about getting the story straight or remembering what you have and haven’t shared. You know you’re doing the right thing.”
Honesty is a catalyst for personal evolution. As you walk the path of putting your clients first, promises Callaway, you’ll evolve as a person, not just as a professional. That’s because being honest with your clients isn’t always easy. In fact, in some situations, it might be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. But just as sore muscles after weightlifting means that your body is getting healthier and stronger, feeling uncomfortable but telling the truth anyway means that your motivations and intentions are moving toward a higher plane.
“It’s hard to define what a ‘good’ person is, but rest assured that making honesty a constant part of your business will help you to move in that direction,” says Callaway. “JoAnn and I are not the same people we were 14 years ago. Our honesty now is definitely not what our honesty was then. Before, we weren’t always sure we could trust the truth, and we paid for that with fear and anxiety. Now, we enjoy a wonderful calm, as well as the trust and loyalty of clients we would have once worried about losing!”
Telling the truth is the best insurance. No matter what industry or field you’re in, things are occasionally going to go wrong. Despite your best efforts, clients will sometimes be disappointed and angry, and some will seek retribution. While you can’t prevent this eventuality, you can protect yourself by consistently being honest.
“Once I heard a fellow real estate agent say, ‘If you haven’t been sued, you aren’t doing enough business,’” shares Callaway. “I thought about that, and on the one hand was saddened by this person’s hardened attitude, and on the other hand, I was struck by the notion that litigation is a fact of life. It occurred to me that when you’re honest, your chances of being sued plummet. Even if things go wrong, your clients will know you have done your best and will be less likely to blame you for the failure.”
Honesty is a powerful magnet. When you cultivate a reputation for honesty, you’ll be surprised by how quickly and how far the word spreads. Clients want to work with businesses that won’t play them false, and when they believe they’ve found a good thing, they’ll tell others! And, of course, they themselves will stay loyal.
“Believe it or not, JoAnn and I have never asked for referrals,” says Callaway. “We simply put our clients first and watch as they become an army of recruiters.
“When you show yourself to be honest and trustworthy, the people with whom you do business will recommend you and advocate for you and want you to succeed. And when you take good care of those they send your way, they’ll be proud to do it again and again.”
“Sticking with the truth isn’t always easy—it’s something you have to dare to do,” concludes Callaway. “Why else do you think George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are revered for doing so?
“But remember, everything has an impact—and the price of not trusting the truth is always more expensive than the alternative.”
Monday, January 28th, 2013
We hear a lot about job creation and how critical it is to our nation’s economic health and future. But who are America’s job creators? Are they the nation’s richest individuals? Are they big public companies? Hot start-ups?
The answer, says business growth expert Professor Ed Hess, is none of the above. He points to new research sponsored by the Small Business Administration—“Accelerating Job Creation in America: The Promise of High-Impact Companies” by Spencer L. Tracy, Jr.—showing that almost all net U.S. job creation in recent years came from existing private, high-growth companies.
“If we are really going to get serious about job creation, policymakers and communities should focus more on nurturing existing private, high-growth businesses,” says Hess, the author of Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses (Stanford University Press, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-8047753-4-2, $29.95, www.EDHLTD.com).
Focus on an important issue: Growth
“That means doing what’s necessary to create a healthy small business environment, such as encouraging investment in private business through tax incentives, encouraging hiring inside the U.S., making credit readily available, and so forth,” he adds. “But it also means zeroing in on a very important issue that often gets overlooked: growth.”
To this end, Hess thinks, state governments, the Small Business Administration, chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, and entrepreneurship centers at colleges and universities should increase their focus on educating existing private business owners on how to manage both the risks and the challenges presented by growth.
Challenges facing the nation’s real job creators
Professor Hess led a study that looked at 54 high-growth private businesses in 23 different states, included both service and product businesses having an average age of 9.6 years and an average revenue of approximately $60 million with the range being $5 million to $350 million.
The key findings of that study led Hess to write two books: Growing an Entrepreneurial Business: Concepts & Cases, a case-textbook for colleges and universities, and the aforementioned Grow to Greatness. Both were peer-reviewed and published by Stanford University Press. The key concepts in those books are the subject matter of this free course.
So, what are the big challenges facing the nation’s real job creators? Take a look at a few facts Hess thinks every company should know about business growth:
Too often, businesses grow themselves into trouble. We know that many successful small businesses implode when they attempt to grow too much too quickly. Growth can outstrip people, processes, and controls.
“Cash flow management during growth periods is critical, because in many cases growth requires investments in people, technology, supplies, etc., ahead of the receipt of cash from customers,” says Hess.
“Entrepreneurs have to understand that they may not be able to afford all the available growth. Instead of following the ‘grow or die’ myth, a much better axiom to follow is ‘improve or die.’ As a business grows, in most cases entrepreneurs have to scale people, processes, and controls. That means not only more but better people, processes, and controls. A focus on improvement is critical because one must maintain high quality standards and financial controls in the haste of growth.”
Successful entrepreneurs know when to release the growth “gas pedal.” In his research, Hess found that every private business faces the same challenges as it attempts to grow. He found that successful entrepreneurs learned to pace their growth.
“They use what I call the ‘gas pedal’ approach to growth,” notes Hess.
“Letting up on the growth pedal to give their people, processes, and controls time to catch up. We also found that strategic focus was critical to safely growing. Focusing on doing one thing that lots of customers needed better than the competition equated to big opportunities.”
Growth means learning to effectively delegate. For a business to grow, the entrepreneur must grow also. When growth begins, entrepreneurs quickly find that they can do only so much and that they need help from others to properly serve customers. They must evolve from being a doer to a manager of employees and then eventually to a manager of managers (a leader).
“This may sound easy but it isn’t,” says Hess.
“Most entrepreneurs don’t like to give up control of any aspect of their business. Facing the fact that they can’t do it all on their own and that they must learn to rely on others to complete certain tasks (and not necessarily exactly how they themselves would do them) can be a very hard reality to swallow.”
Upgrading never ends. The people, processes, structure, and controls needed to manage a business with $1 million of revenue generally do not work for a business with $10 million of revenue. Entrepreneurs often learn the hard way that growth means continual change.
“As you grow, the solutions that worked at one level will most likely not work at the next,” says Hess.
“Inflection points for the companies I’ve studied occurred frequently when they expanded to 10, 25, 50, and 100 employees. When these changes take place, entrepreneurs often realize their hope of having a smooth-running machine is an elusive dream. Successful entrepreneurs and their employees are open to learning and adapting in an incremental, iterative, and experimental fashion.”
Growth creates business risks that must be managed. Growth stresses people, processes, quality controls, and financial controls. It can dilute a business’s culture and customer value proposition and put the business in a different competitive space. Understanding these risks is critical to managing the pace of growth and preventing growth from overwhelming the business.
“To get a better handle on growth risks, consider how your strategic space will change as you get bigger,” says Hess. “You will probably enter a new competitive space, facing bigger and better competitors than you previously faced. Those new competitors may be better capitalized than you and be able to engage in price competition, driving down your margins.
“The good news is that you can minimize this and other big risks by planning for growth, pacing growth, and prioritizing what controls and processes you need to put in place prior to taking on much growth,” he adds. “I call it ‘what can go wrong’ thinking, and entrepreneurs can’t indulge in too much of it.”
Monday, January 21st, 2013
A Kindle Fire tablet computer
Imagine Amazon sending you business leads regularly and even paying you to do so. Why would they do it?
“Amazon is desperate for reading material and you can publish your content for free as Kindle books,” says V. Michael Santoro, a managing partner with John S. Rizzo of Globe On-Demand, an internet technology company. The two are also the co-authors of, “Niche Dominance: Creating Order out of your Digital Marketing Chaos,” (www.NicheDominance.com).
“The twist is to use them as a generation system for sales leads.”
The Audience is huge
The audience is huge – Kindle is no longer just for people who purchase Kindle tablets. Amazon has also written Kindle Reader applications for every major smartphone, tablet, and computer including the Android phone or tablet, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows 8 PC or tablet, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone 7, Santoro says.
“Most businesses hesitate to use Kindle to generate sales leads because they think they need to write an actual book,” says Rizzo, “But that’s not true. You can write and publish short reports — as long as the content is original, of high quality and does not violate its Terms of Service (TOS), Amazon will publish your material.”
The key is to include a compelling free offer with a strong call to action and a link to a lead capture page – the page on your website where people can sign up for more information, special offers, your newsletter, etc.
And Amazon will even help market your book – for free!
When a new Kindle book is approved and published, Amazon will:
• Feature it in their new releases section.
• Email their customer base announcing it to those who have previously purchased a Kindle book in that genre.
• Offer the Kindle KDP Select Program for ongoing free promotion.
• Allow customers to highlight, make notes, and share your book’s content via Twitter and other social networks.
“By enrolling in the free Kindle KDP Select Program, you give Amazon exclusivity on a renewable 90-day basis,” Santoro says. “This program allows their readers to borrow your book from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, and when they do, Amazon pays you a royalty, as well as for book sales. However, the real benefit is that Amazon provides five days per quarter to give your book away for free.”
Why give your Kindle book away for free?
“Because, as a lead generation system, you want as many individuals as possible to download your Kindle book and visit your lead capture page, Santoro explains. Additionally, Amazon views each book download as a vote and rewards your book with higher page ranking. The more downloads, the better the chance of an Amazon Page 1 placement.
To create your Kindle report:
• Use Amazon to determine what current Kindle books or paperbacks are published about your topic.
• Decide what information will be helpful to your potential customers. Make sure it is original and offers value. Avoid information that is easily found on the Internet.
• Create your report in Microsoft Word and include images if appropriate.
• Include your call to action – a message that prompts readers to visit your website — and link to your website’s lead capture page.
• Create a cover graphic.
Publishing on Kindle is fairly simple:
• Go to http://kdp.amazon.com and sign up for a free Kindle account.
• Watch the “How To” Kindle publishing video.
• Fill out the Amazon Author Page to track your statistics.
• Reference the book on your website and link to your Amazon book page.
• Announce it on your Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter accounts.
“The goal is not to sell books, but rather to generate leads from Amazon’s huge customer base,” Rizzo says. An additional benefit is that you will differentiate yourself from the competition by being a published author. If your content is excellent and helpful, you will also build trust which will help to increase sales from these new leads.
John S. Rizzo obtained his bachelor’s degree in business administration and spent three years as a consultant for Amazon’s publishing group. He has assisted several businesses with digital marketing strategy and has served in leadership positions for multiple initiatives for the Charleston, S.C., Chamber of Commerce.
V. Michael Santoro has more than 10 years in the digital marketing field. His prior experience includes international senior marketing positions in technology fields. He has a master’s degree and was an adjunct professor with the computer science department of Western Connecticut State University.
Friday, January 18th, 2013
Digital marketing firm Punch Communications says brands should quickly become familiar with Facebook’s Graph Search feature and optimize their Pages, posts and websites in order to appear within results, therefore extending their reach.
The new feature is currently only available to US Facebook users. As it rolls out slowly to the rest of the world, Graph Search will allow further discovery of content shared publicly and by friends on Facebook, making it an ideal channel for brand Pages and posts to have visibility.
Furthermore, results can include websites that rank in Bing, as well as Bing ads, so businesses should also focus attention on correctly optimizing webpages and Bing PPC campaigns in order to develop a social search presence on Facebook.
Easier to search phrases
Graph Search will differ from a traditional web search platform as users can more easily search phrases that are linked to personal connections and queries; for example, “horror films recommended by my friends in New York”, “restaurants in Manchester” or “people who like Android smartphones”.
Graph Search is intended make searching Facebook content easier and provide users with results, which will be akin to recommendations.
These results are gathered from profile and brand Page information, likes and check-ins, with status updates and other activities to be incorporated in the future. However, the update presents a challenge for social media marketers as it appears Graph Search results are returned, at least in part, based on the number of interactions and fans the Page has.
This means brands must continue to create engaging content which encourages likes, shares and comments to maximise visibility in Facebook search.
Pete Goold, managing director at UK-based integrated social media, PR and SEO agency, Punch Communications, says: “As the new functionality is yet to roll out beyond US English users, it may seem difficult at the moment to pinpoint exactly how Graph Search will affect global marketing practices, but plenty is already apparent. There are a wide range of opportunities for brands to positively capitalize on Facebook search and now is the time to become familiar with what industry experts, especially those with access to the tool in the US, are reporting.
“It is clear marketers must immediately strategize and begin to adapt Page information and posts, as well as effectively integrate search engine optimization efforts, to make sure that they are visible in Facebook search results.”
Thursday, January 17th, 2013
By Dave Mastovich
It seems like an organization exists for just about everything. My company belongs to the Society for Healthcare Strategy and the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. I’m part of the National Speakers Association. You can probably rattle off a few that are specific to your industry or area of expertise as well.
So I guess it makes sense there’s an International Listening Association. Their mission is to advance the practice, teaching and research of listening throughout the world.
I hear that.
But I just enjoy their statistics, gleaned from years of studying the good, the bad and the ugly of listening.
Here are a few nuggets:
- 85% of what we know we have learned by listening.
- 75% of the time we are distracted, preoccupied or forgetful.
- We only recall about 50% of what was said immediately after we listen to someone talk.
- In total, just 20% of what we hear will be remembered.
- Less than 2% of us have had formal education about listening.
- People listen through one of four primary styles: people, time, action or content oriented. Females are more likely to be people-oriented and males are more likely to be time or action oriented.
I’m thinking it means listening is vital to leading, managing, marketing and selling. Your personal productivity and your company’s success will be enhanced via better listening. With that in mind, here are…drum roll please…
10 Ways to Improve Your Listening
- Let the speaker finish their thoughts, don’t interrupt
- Keep an open mind, don’t judge
- Listen without planning what you are going to say next
- Give feedback
- Pay attention to the speakers posture and body
- Stay focused
- Show respect
- Take notes
- Make eye contact to keep the speaker at ease
- Put as much effort into listening as the speaker puts into talking
Better listening leads to better results. And you don’t even need to join an organization to improve…
David M. Mastovich, MBA is President of MASSolutions, an integrated marketing firm focused on improving the bottom line for clients through creative selling, messaging and PR solutions. He’s also author of “Get Where You Want To Go: How to Achieve Personal and Professional Growth Through Marketing, Selling and Story Telling.” For more information, go to www.massolutions.biz.
Editors note: You could learn a lot about how to provide a thought-leader message from the way Dave Mastovich writes and structures his business advice columns. Note the focus, the statistics that make it meaningful, and the quick, short tips.
Friday, December 7th, 2012
Customers share at least one trait with Santa: they have their own naughty or nice lists.
Ron Kaufman, author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet(Evolve Publishing, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-9847625-0-7, $24.95, www.UpliftingService.com), explained how to stay on their “Nice” list in a previous TechJournal post.
Here’s five things that will get you stuck on their “Naughty” list.
Specialize in the run-around. Doing business with a company should be a choice, not a chore. But unfortunately, many companies make receiving service very difficult for their customers.
“Companies on the naughty list aren’t streamlined,” notes Kaufman.
“Customers have to give the same information to one person after another as they’re passed from department to department seeking help. Departments are so siloed that customers can feel like they aren’t even talking to people who work at the same company.”
Treat customers like a number. Have you ever been to a business, office, or other facility where you had to literally take a number and wait for it to show up on the electronic sign before receiving service? It doesn’t feel so great, does it? That’s how customers feel when you don’t bother to get to know them as individuals.
“When you don’t personalize service by taking the time to learn your customers’ names or implementing systems that remember their needs, you make customers feel like they’re just one of many,” says Kaufman. “There’s no bond, nothing to make them feel any loyalty to you. Make one mistake and they will immediately go somewhere else.”
Exhibit a “the customer’s always wrong” mentality. If turning unhappy customers into loyal customers is what lands companies on the nice list, then the quickest way to land on the naughty list is to treat complaining customers like they’re ruining your day. This can mean anything from blame shifting to “punishing” an unhappy customer by making the interaction even less pleasant than it already is.
“Companies that don’t have a solid service recovery program react to complaining customers by seeking to avoid blame,” notes Kaufman. “Employees point the finger at their colleagues or back at the customers themselves and say, ‘It’s not my fault!’ They’re too focused on passing the buck to even take notice of the customers’ real needs. And to make it even worse, these companies tend to bog down customers even more by requiring a morass of receipts and time-consuming paperwork before they receive even a mediocre level of service.”
Put unhappy, clock-watching employees in front of customers. Naughty companies hire employees who are interested only in working for a wage, and it shows.
“For these companies, service with a smile is a pipe dream,” says Kaufman. “More like service with a grimace! You know you’re at a naughty company when a service representative won’t look you in the eye, has no energy to smile, and treats you like the service they provide is a chore. You might leave having received the product or service you need, but you won’t leave feeling uplifted or wanting to return.”
Put the bottom line on a pedestal. Some companies on the naughty list treat customers like a number; others treat customers like a dollar sign.
“Companies that put the bottom line on a pedestal above their customers can make customers feel like they’re being tricked or swindled,” notes Kaufman.
“They offer deals that aren’t backed by great service. Or run ads touting low-cost products that don’t offer real satisfaction. Customers end up feeling as mercenary as the companies they buy from. Both parties may have completed a deal, but neither was uplifted by any lasting value.”
Friday, December 7th, 2012
Author Ron Kaufman.
Generally, companies try to stay on their best behavior all year long. But during this holiday season—with decked halls, crowded malls, shrinking bank accounts, and frayed nerves—providing great service is even more critical than usual.
Much like Santa, customers have their own “naughty or nice list,” and Ron Kaufman says they won’t hesitate to give you the business equivalent of a stocking full of coal (i.e., taking their business somewhere else) if you make your way into the wrong column.
“There’s no better time of the year than the holiday season to uplift your customers with great service,” says Kaufman, author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet(Evolve Publishing, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-9847625-0-7, $24.95, www.UpliftingService.com). “Unfortunately, there’s also no easier time of the year to do or say exactly the wrong thing.”
Often at the holidays companies find themselves overbooked and short staffed. Supplies of popular items run out of stock. Departments aren’t prepared for the increased volume of customer inquiries and complaints. Employees are too distracted by holiday events or travel plans or shopping lists to give customers their full attention.
“These practices are precisely what land companies on customers’ naughty lists,” says Kaufman. “But usually, these are not isolated incidents. Instead, they are evidence of a bigger problem in the organization’s overall service culture.”
Kaufman is at the head of a growing worldwide movement to uplift service in general—for customers and for colleagues. His new book takes readers on a journey into a world of uplifting service with dynamic case studies and perspective-changing insights. Readers learn how the world’s best-performing companies have changed the game in their industries through service and the action steps anyone can take to achieve an uplifting service transformation.
“Holiday happiness and great service needn’t be incompatible,” says Kaufman. “In fact, one of the true forces driving the holidays is our desire to take care of the people we love. And that’s what’s at the core of uplifting service—taking care of the needs and concerns of other people. When companies build a service culture that keeps this top of mind, they’ll find themselves on the nice list every time.”
How can you be sure to land on your customers’ nice lists? What behaviors will banish you to their naughty lists? Read on for a few tips from Kaufman:
To Stay on the Nice List:
Make it seamless. For many of your customers, the holiday season is the busiest time of the year. They will be shopping, ordering, and asking more questions than ever across every possible channel: in person, over the phone, at their computers, on their mobile devices, at work, in their cars, and from home.
“When you provide integrated, smooth service across channels, you’re making your customers’ lives a lot easier,” he says. “From web to email to ATM, to counter to SMS to phone calls, to social platforms and home deliveries, when all information about your customers accumulates and moves seamlessly, then your customers can get what they need from you quickly and get back to doing everything else in their lives.”
Customize for your customers. Sure, your customers know they aren’t your only customer, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be treated that way. Personalized service makes people feel special.
“When you offer options, choices, range, and variety and create more value through customization and personalization, your customers will feel like they’re your favorite,” notes Kaufman.
“Implement processes that allow you to recall your customers’ questions, preferences, and choices in all future interactions. Then customize your offers and suggestions for their next visit or purchase. This increases your value each time a customer comes to you, and helps you become the vendor, store, or supplier they are glad to talk about and comfortable recommending to others.”
Say “Yes!” to service recovery. Companies on the nice list know that great service recovery turns “oops” into opportunities. Don’t treat customer complaints like they’re annoying or a waste of time, advises Kaufman.
Instead, be grateful when unhappy customers give you a chance to win back their business. Why? Because for every customer who does complain, there are several others who had the same problem, but didn’t give you a second chance.
“Companies that ‘get’ service recovery understand when a customer complains, he is really telling you what he values,” points out Kaufman. “If he says you weren’t fast enough, he values speed. If he says he’s tired of not being able to get anyone on the phone, he values human interaction.
‘Nice’ companies quickly seek to identify what complaining customers value. And then they make sure that employees are empowered to make amends and offer an appropriately generous and valuable new action.”
Remember that happy (engaged) employees = service with a smile. Especially during the holidays, it can feel like the businesses, stores, and restaurants we frequent have been invaded by employee drones. Many service providers seem exhausted, frazzled, and too overwhelmed to do anything more than provide the minimum service to keep customers moving along.
“Companies on the nice list know how important employees—both customer-facing and non-customer-facing—are to providing uplifting service,” says Kaufman.
“Your employees should be switched on and energized by their role at your company. When they’re clearly aligned, vigorously supported, and joyfully connected to the brand, to colleagues, and to customers, then job satisfaction fuels customer satisfaction in a virtuous cycle.”
Weave yourself into the fabric of the community
Uplifting service works because it makes everyone feel good, from employees to customers to other community members. When your company plays a socially responsible role in the community, then good feelings of service spread farther, and employees want to provide great service because it is so gratifying.
“When your company contributes and participates in the wider community, uplifting the commercial, civil, cultural, environmental, and economic eco-systems, people notice,” says Kaufman.
“They’ll want to give you business because they know you give right back to their community. Being your customer makes them feel like they’re contributing, too. Many companies do this with local sports team sponsorships, school internship opportunities, highway and park adoption schemes, and other neighborhood development programs.”
Also see: Five ways to get stuck on your customers’ “Naughty” list.
Monday, October 29th, 2012
Boomers may be hitting retirement age or find it tough to land a job in this economy, but many of them aren’t quite ready to quit. Instead, they’re starting businesses as “boomerpreneurs.”
Some just find retirement boring, others are pursuing a passion or a lifelong dream to work for themselves. Still others just want to keep following the American dream of someday striking it rich. But regardless of motivation, they face the same tough road as all entrepreneurs.
There is even a website dedicated to them: Boomerpreneur.
While there are many benefits to opening a small business in retirement, ‘Boomerpreneurs’ should understand that entrepreneurship involves an enormous financial commitment that is best managed with the assistance of a financial professional. Lack of sufficient preparation could have a negative effect on the business owner.
BMO offers the following tips to Boomerpreneurs-to-be:
Do your research: Take advantage of the resources and network you have built over the years and learn all you need to know to set up your company. This includes gaining industry insight, arranging a new phone number, deciding whether or not to incorporate the business and looking into the potential tax implications.
Consider the pros and cons: Think carefully about why you want to start your own business. Being your own boss can offer some flexibility. However, other sacrifices, such as longer hours and a possible decrease in cash flow – starting up, and potentially over the life of your retirement — may be necessary to ensure your success.
Develop a plan: Stress-test your idea and research your marketplace, including what products and services you will be offering, their appropriate price point(s), who your potential customers will be and what your sales targets will need to be to cover your costs. Keep your end goal in mind as you build your company and maintain a positive, yet realistic, outlook as you progress.
Seek outside advice: Speak to an accountant and a small business banker. Financial specialists that can provide insight into setting up your company, market competition, personal and business capital and how it may change over time.
Learn all the facts before starting your own business.
Thursday, October 25th, 2012
By Allan Maurer
It’s much easier to launch a startup company these days, but not nearly so easy to get venture or angel financing, says Joe Procopio.
New technologies such as cloud computing infrastructure, fairly easy to use website development and content management systems, and other advances make it a much simpler matter to get a company launched with very little capital.
But getting seed or venture funding these days is a different matter.
“It started with the Facebook hangover,” says Procopio. The number of financing deals and the dollars invested are down compared to last year. I think we’ll be seeing smaller deals with less game-changing technology behind them and a greater emphasis on revenues.”
In fact, he adds, “It’s not just about the idea any more. Financials are king. You really have to have customers and show good financials — or have a very clear path to them – to get funded these days.”
Get into the startup ecosystem
On the other hand, he says, “Often, getting funding is not the way to go.” Instead, he says, entrepreneurs should take advantage of the startup ecosystems popping up in many cities and regions.
Those include accelerators, incubators, competitions, universities, and crowd-sourced funding (such as Kickstarter).
For instance, he notes, via the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Carolina Challenge, “Students are getting into entrepreneurship while completing a bachelor’s degree. They’re coming out of school starting their own companies and get cashflow positive very quickly. It’s a trend that will continue.”
While there will still be some “home-run hitters” among startups and some great ideas that get tons of funding, most startups are probably better off “Letting customers fund them,” he says.
Procopio, a serial entrepreneur familiar to TechJournal readers for his columns about the startup scene in the Research Triangle in NC, where he is a familiar face at conferences and networking events for entrepreneurs, will participate in the upcoming Startup Summit in Raleigh, NC, Nov. 6-7.
Speakers from top brands
The Startup Summit is a new addition to the 2012 Internet Summit, which brings 120 thought-leaders to the Raleigh, NC, Convention Center Nov. 6-8, featuring speakers from AOL, Bing, Google, Klout, Mashable, comScore and many other top digital brands.
He’ll join speakers such as Angus Davis, founder and CEO at Swipely, Paul Singh, partner and “Master of the Hustle,” at 500 Startups, Sarah Lacy, founder and editor of Pando Daily, and venture capitalists from NextView Ventures, ABS Capital, True Ventures, Baltimore Angles and Nucleus Venture, Southern Capitol Ventures, Contender Capital, and North Bridge Venture Partners.
Among the other startup CEOs on the agenda is Procopio’s boss at Automated Insights, Robbie Allen, a former distinguished engineer at Cisco and author of ten books on a variety of technical topics.
Allen founded Automated Insights, which began by developing automated sports reporting, an idea that got a lot of press for its robot journalism angle. The firm landed a NC IDEA grant and raised a $4.3 million round of funding in October last year.
Procopio, who has been with the firm since 2010, says, “Our slogan is automate everything. “We joke that we want to automate our ping pong games,” he quips. Automated Insights has moved on from automated sports reporting – for which there is a limited market – to such things as recapping Fantasy Football games in a deal with Yahoo. Personally, here at the TechJournal, we think that is one clever idea.
Procopio, who also started and runs the ExitEvent startup network, has this advice for entrepreneurs:
First, “Chase sales and think customers first. Prove your idea before you seek money and consider whether you really need outside capital.”
Second, “Reach out to the startup ecosystem and get involved early. You’ll get so much return on very little investment connecting at educational events or just going out with other entrepreneurs for a beer. Later stage guys are open, helpful and willing to make connections for you.”
Ride the roller coaster
Finally: “Ride the roller coaster. If you’re having days with awesome highs followed by terrible lows, you’re doing it right.”
He sees a lot of entrepreneurs who go a month or two without gaining traction and get the 20th no, then quit.
But, he says, “That’s one of the best and worst things about being a startup. You’ll have days that are phenomenal and the next be crashing down and fighting fires. Doing that, you’re in the right place.”
On the other hand, he says, if you’re not having those highs and lows on the roller coaster, you may be growing complacent and “need to pivot.”
The easiest way to lose, he says, “Take your eye off the ball and get complacent.”
Thursday, October 25th, 2012
By Ryan Kettler, Boostsuite
Last week we revealed that the first step to getting more results from your website is to start creating new content. Today, we will talk about how you can optimize your new content for maximum results.
Before, during, and after you create your new pages of content you need to make sure to focus on optimization. What does that mean? It means you need to select the proper keywords and use them in the right places on your new pages. Keywords are the basis of ALL search engine rankings. Searchers enter keywords and short key phrases in search engines to find information they need.
The best keywords have some level of search volume for them, yet aren’t too broad or unknown. For instance, your business name and brand names are not usually good keywords because most of your new customers don’t already know about your business yet.
The best way to find the right new keywords for your business is to use a resource like the Google Keyword Tool.
After you choose one or two keywords to optimize a new article with, you have to actually integrate those keywords within your content in five key areas.
1 – Page Title
This is the text used in the link that visitors click on in the search engine results page to come to your site. You need to make sure each one of your page titles reflects the content of its page and that the keywords you have chosen for that page appear near the beginning of the title. This is because longer titles are truncated after 70 characters. You need to find a fine balance between short length and making sure that your title explains what your page is about.
2 – URLs
Your page URL often already includes your Page Title because most modern content management systems place the page title within the page URL automatically. If yours doesn’t, ask your webmaster how you can change your website to automatically include your page titles in your page URLs.
3 – Meta Description
Although meta descriptions are no longer important to search engine rankings, they remain highly important for improving click-through rates from the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Meta descriptions are your opportunity to advertise your website to searchers and let them know exactly how pertinent a given page’s content is to the subject they’re searching for. A good meta description includes keywords associated with a page’s content, but should also create a compelling description a searcher will want to click on.
Using calls-to-action in your meta description such as “learn more”, “download now”, and “find out how” is a great idea because they’re incentives that tell your potential visitors exactly what they’ll get by clicking your link. The meta description should optimally be around 150 characters and should be written in sentence format.
4 – Headings
Headings are lines of text on a webpage wrapped by special HTML tags that cause them to be displayed as large text on a web page. These tags range numerically from H1 to H6 where H1 is the largest. Before the Internet, text headings were used by newspaper editors to catch readers’ attention at a newsstand and entice them to buy the paper.
Nowadays, since most web content is free, the heading tags serve as a way to get the search-engines’ attention so they can provide their searchers with the most relevant results. You should always start an article with a keyword-rich large (H1) heading and work your way down the page using smaller headings in order as your content progresses.
You may have heard the expression “content is king” and the reason why is because the meat and potatoes of search engine optimization is making sure the body content of a web page contains your keywords. In a 500 word article you should mention all of your article keywords about five times.
Implement a regular content creation and optimization process for your business and you’ll get a leg up on your competitors. Stay tuned for the next article in this series. We’re going to share some easy tips for how to promote your new content to gain maximum exposure.
Boostsuite’s founder and CEO, Aaron Houghton is among the entrepreneurial thought-leaders participating in the two-day Startup Summit in Raleigh, Nov. 6-8, where he’ll discuss how to drastically lower the risk you take when you launch your new startup.
The Startup Summit is sponsored by TechMedia’s Southeast Venture Conference at the upcoming Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC, Nov. 6-8.
Ryan Kettler is Director of Communications for BoostSuite. Ryan is a sports fanatic, beer connoisseur, Internet marketing zealot and live music enthusiast. When he’s not helping BoostSuite customers he can be found sampling the latest IPAs and cheering on his North Carolina State Wolfpack.
BoostSuite is a web marketing optimization product for small business owners. Unlike current products that bewilder and discourage small business owners, BoostSuite allows novice web marketers to build more website traffic and convert more online visitors into customers and leads for their businesses. BoostSuite is free and takes only one minute to set up, is easy to learn, and can be used by anyone.
Thursday, September 27th, 2012
Small businesses play an essential part in powering our economy, but only if they can achieve success. But a few common mistakes can torpedo a small business and keep it from succeeding.
Here are a few examples of common mistakes:
- Keeping Shoddy Records: Entrepreneurs/idea people are not always great administrators
- Resisting Change: Be immersed in your industry but do not get so close that you ignore trends
- Unwise Spending: Do not buy a new car – reinvest in your business!
- Ineffective Marketing: Don’t assume your idea is SO great that you do not need self-promotion
Bolt Insurance created this infographic to identify how small business owners can spot and overcome these and other common mistakes:
Via: BOLT Insurance
Wednesday, September 26th, 2012
During a 2010 survey, the Society for Human Resource Management found that 43 percent of HR professionals believe a larger portion of their workforce will be telecommuting within the next five years.
As a rapidly growing and global trend, telecommuting—a work arrangement in which employees do not meet at a central location—can pose new challenges in employee engagement and motivation.
In order to help leaders engage remote employees and overcome potential time and geographical constraints, The Vaya Group today released its top tips for motivating virtual teams.
“As more companies expand globally, telecommuting is becoming a common work arrangement for many employees,” said Dr. Paul Eccher, Ph.D., author and co-founder and principal of The Vaya Group.
“However, just because these workers are out of sight does not mean they should be kept out of the loop. Leaders must learn how to effectively manage virtual teams in order to improve the bottom line and sustain talent over time.”
The Vaya Group recommends the following tips for motivating virtual teams:
- Invest time upfront to form relationships, despite the distance – Getting to know team members is critical, even when face-to-face interaction is limited. Take time to learn about each worker’s career aspirations, strengths, development gaps and style.
- Recognize accomplishments in unique ways – Recognition is a powerful driver for keeping employees engaged in their work. Consider creating a team newsletter that highlights individual efforts or host yearly award banquets over the web. For both personal and professional milestones, send employees customized gifts, whether it’s a gift card, flower arrangement or gift basket.
- Schedule regular coaching sessions – Frequent phone or video conferences with employees will allow you to present new assignments that align with their interests and strengths. Remember to use these or separate conversations as a way to gather feedback. Listening provides an opportunity to learn more about remote workers and ways their work experience can be improved.
- Create interactive ways for teams to communicate – Allowing work teams to engage across distances can lead to higher career satisfaction and sense of belonging. Go beyond email to develop an interactive team intranet that allows individuals to share ideas, post accomplishments and ask questions. Utilize web conferencing, web cameras and other virtual systems that permit more real-time conversations.
- Enable opportunities for periodic face-to-face interaction – Schedule face-to-face team kick-off meetings and regularly scheduled subsequent live meetings. These face-to-face meetings can be incorporated with team-building exercises to give staff additional opportunities to develop a personal connection and build camaraderie. If meetings are infrequent, create virtual team-building games, such as having everyone send in little-known facts, then displaying it for the group to guess who it describes.
“Through our research and work within Fortune 500 companies, we’ve discovered that only 21 percent of leaders excel at motivating their teams,” said Dave Ross, co-founder and principal of The Vaya Group. “With these simple tips, leaders can build camaraderie, create a more positive work environment and encourage stronger business performance, regardless of distance.”
For more information on motivating virtual teams, see: http://www.vayapath.com/landing/regional/motivating-virtual-teams.html to download the complimentary white paper. To learn more about The Vaya Group, visit www.vayapath.com.